With Super Bowl LIII in the books, it’s time to turn our full attention to the NFL offseason. But before free agency and all the NFL Draft preparations get underway, I first want to look at and rank the top Philadelphia Eagles needs going into the 2019 offseason.
It’s anticipated that the team will likely go through a lot of roster turnover in the upcoming months. Many veterans have expiring contracts and others could be entering retirement. There will be plenty of holes to fill and since their cap space is a bit tight (Howie Roseman will undoubtedly do some maneuvering with this though, just like he always does), they’ll have to be pretty frugal in free agency and capitalize on the number of picks they have in this year’s draft.
The following is how I’d prioritize the Eagles’ positional needs, from most important to least:
Future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters has likely played in his final game as a Philadelphia Eagle. I believe Peters will retire, but even if he doesn’t, he was injured way too often in 2018 for the Eagles to rely on from here on out. The right business decision would be to part ways with the long-time franchise tackle.
The options behind Peters are big question marks. Halapoulivaati Vaitai stepped in during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run after Peters suffered a season-ending knee injury and has played well at times, but he’s more suited as a backup or a stop-gap. I wouldn’t depend on him being the guy to protect Wentz’s blindside as the long-term starter. And Jordan Mailata, who has become a fan favorite, can’t be realistically considered for the starting left tackle spot just yet. We’re all hopeful that he can eventually be that guy, but he still needs time to develop.
Also, consider Brandon Brooks’ Achilles injury. A realistic timetable for his return is some point in the middle of the regular season, possibly October or November. And even when he does come back it’s likely that he won’t be playing at the same elite level right away. The Eagles could use an offensive tackle that has the capability of sliding inside to offensive guard if needed.
We’ve seen how dangerous of a team the Eagles can be when they have a dominant offensive line in place. That can be applied to every team in the league actually, not just the Eagles. They need to sure up the offensive line and make sure they remain one of the top units in the league, and that starts with finding a left tackle to take Peters’ place. That is priority #1 this offseason.
Defensive Line (either edge or interior)
Just as the Eagles’ offensive success is due in large part to their play in the trenches, the same goes with the defensive side of the ball. And just as the offensive line is losing a long-time key piece in Peters, the defensive line might be losing one also.
Brandon Graham has reached the end of his contract, and his future is still unknown. He’s expressed his plans to test the market, but also his willingness to give a discount to his current team. If the price isn’t too high, it is possible that Howie gives him a new contract, and I’m sure Eagles fans would love to see him finish his career here. But it’s also very likely that due to his age and decline in production in 2018 that he’s just not in the team’s future plans.
Chris Long is another edge player that could be gone, either by being released or from retirement.
That leaves Michael Bennett and Derek Barnett as the starting defensive ends going into 2019, which is a really good duo to have. But Schwartz loves rotating guys, therefore there needs to be more depth.
Last year’s 4th round pick Josh Sweat is a very intriguing prospect, but no one can really assess anything about his game yet because of how little he’s played. He’s a relative unknown, so anything he can contribute next season will be bonus.
But if there’s no one they can add on the edge the Eagles could use an additional threat on the interior just as much to rotate in after/with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. Cox had a great 2018, especially later on in the season and in the playoffs, but when there’s another pass rushing threat lined up next to him that’s when that defensive line is really able to do some damage. Being able to constantly collapse the pocket from the inside is a big part of what makes facing the Eagles defense so scary for opposing offenses.
With this draft class being deep along the defensive line, the Eagles definitely have plenty of options to pick from.
If anyone wants to say “All running backs are replaceable!” or “You can put anyone in the backfield and they’ll do well with a great offensive line”, I’d like for them to take a look at the 2018 Eagles running back corps. The offensive line wasn’t the reason for their lack of success on the ground; it was the lack of talent they had at running back after Jay Ajayi tore his ACL.
A lot of fans were hyping up Corey Clement and Josh Adams going into the season (myself not included), only to realize that neither of them were the great talents people wanted to believe they were. Corey Clement is a good receiver out of the backfield and a good pass blocker but as a runner he still has issues with patience behind the line and he rarely forces missed tackles. Josh Adams had some good games but he’s still limited to early downs and isn’t the power back that some fans think he is. Both of them are capable complimentary pieces, but neither of them are guys you want leading the way on the ground.
It was great when the Eagles had Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy in the backfield for a decade. We need talents like them back in Philadelphia. Howie Roseman can’t keep neglecting the position and trying to fill it with “JAGs” over and over. It’s time the Eagles invested a Day 1 or 2 pick on the position and finally get the franchise’s next Westbrook or McCoy.
Or even if they don’t end up finding an elite RB, they at least need someone who can be the lead back in a rotation; someone who can carry the ball around 15 times a game. They need a significant upgrade. And they shouldn’t overpay for anyone in free agency either; it needs to be through the draft.
Giving Wentz an elite talent in the backfield with him, especially a versatile one who can have an impact in the passing game as a receiver too, will do absolute wonders for the offense.
Howie Roseman was able to restructure Rodney McLeod’s contract, meaning the veteran safety will be returning to the team for the 2019 season.
Per source, Rodney McLeod restructure cuts 2019 cap charge from $9.9M to $4.8M (difference of $5.1M). Includes guarantee of $1.5M (signing bonus). $1.5M base salary not gtd.
Includes potential $1M per-game roster bonus and $1.25M in incentives.
Max value for 2019: $5.25M.
— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) February 6, 2019
One could argue that McLeod’s season-ending injury was the most impactful loss for the team in 2018. The Eagles have a great safety duo with him and Malcolm Jenkins and they compliment each other so well. But beyond them the team didn’t really have anyone that could step in and be relied on as the 3rd safety in their “Heavy Nickel” package or as a replacement starter in case McLeod or Jenkins went down with an injury. And as we all saw this past season that was painfully evident (the Corey Graham mistake on 4th and 15 against the Tennessee Titans in overtime still drives me nuts).
One option that I personally find worth experimenting with is moving Rasul Douglas to safety. It’s something that is argued over quite a bit amongst this fan base, but I really do believe Douglas could be a better safety than cornerback because of his ball skills and ability to bait quarterbacks. His ability to read routes in zone coverage are very translatable to safety. Plus, he’s a phenomenal tackler. He would be a great fit as a single-high safety in my eyes.
The coaching staff might not agree with me when it comes to moving Douglas, but even so, the team still needs to find another safety to not only be that 3rd guy on the depth chart but also take over as the starter once McLeod and/or Jenkins are gone.
It is imperative that Howie Roseman and company infuse the roster with some good young talent. Free agency is going to be important, of course, and Howie has been able to acquire some exceptional free agents over the past few seasons. But with Carson Wentz’s contract extension looming, the money available for him to work with is going to start to decrease within the next couple of seasons. He and Joe Douglas need to start drafting well and address all the needs at these specific positions if they want the team to remain successful for the next decade or longer.